‘Illegal structures’ spotted on Union Banks in West Philippine Sea — AFP
MANILA, Philippines — “Illegal structures” were spotted on Union Banks in the West Philippine Sea’s Spratly Islands, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Thursday following its patrol mission in the area.
The AFP said a maritime patrol was conducted on March 30 over the “Pagkakaisa Banks” or Union Banks, a group of features that are within the Kalayaan Islands Group in the municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan province.
“During this patrol we were able to document manmade structures that were built on some of the features. These structures are illegal,” the AFP said in a statement.
The AFP, however, said that the “laws of the sea give the Philippines indisputable and exclusive rights over the area,” referring to the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS), which establishes rules governing the use of the ocean and all its resources.
“These constructions and other activities, economic or otherwise, are prejudicial to the peace, good order, and security of our territorial waters,” AFP said.
The AFP said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of National Defense (DND) have already been informed about the “offenses to our sovereignty.”
“We assure every Filipino that our efforts to dutifully perform our mandate to protect and advance our national interests in the area continue unhampered,” the AFP said.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) earlier reported that 220 militia vessels were first seen at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) by the Philippine Coast Guard on March 7.
The Julian Felipe Reef is within Manila’s exclusive economic zone, the task force said, describing the site as “a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs” (Union Banks).
The number of vessels has gone down to 183 on March 22, then rose to 199 on March 27.
World’s most contested features
The islands and reefs of the Spratlys are among the world’s most contested features, with Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia putting structures, small communities and artificial islands there to stake their territorial claims in the strategic waterway.
Video footage shared by the military showed hundreds of boats spread around Hughes, Gaven and Whitsun reefs, some moored in groups of as many as seven boats side-by-side.
Calls to the Chinese embassy in Manila on Thursday seeking comment on the Union Banks structures went unanswered.
Sobejana’s remarks come as part of a new push by the Philippines’ military and diplomats to publicly challenge China’s maritime activities after several years during which criticism was muted.
President Rodrigo Duterte has sought closer relations with Beijing and has said challenging its actions are futile and dangerous.
U.S. and Philippine national security advisers discussed their concerns over Chinese activities in the South China Sea in a call on Wednesday, while Philippine foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin is due to meet his Chinese counterpart this week. With a report from Reuters
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